Could focusing on your practice's brand help you grow your business? Our new guest blog by Helena Leslie of Handsome Ground Studio explains all the basics of brand identity.
How do you feel when you sit down to write something you’re sending around to your patients? If you find yourself putting it off — if it’s your least favourite thing and you’d rather mop the floors or do your tax return instead — here are a few tips to make the process feel a bit easier.
This blog post aims to break down and demystify what a good piece of writing needs to have, as well as giving you a bit of a game plan and some general advice to follow. Most of these tips can be applied to any kind of writing that you’re producing for your patients — from newsletters to content on your website, these are some points to keep in mind.
1. Before you start
Find the story
Good writing is essentially storytelling. It’s human nature to be engaged by stories – and we respond empathically when someone shares their story with us. Brené Brown sums it up when she says: “we’re wired for story [. . .] we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories — it’s in our biology.”
Think about what you find engaging as a reader. You might find facts and figures intellectually stimulating, but I’ll bet that what’s most likely to get under your skin and stay with you afterwards is the human aspect of someone’s story. Always keep this in mind when you’re writing.
- On your website: what is your story? How can you share this with your patients? Don’t skimp on that “about me” or “our story” section of your site; people want to know who you are and why you do what you do. The more of yourself you can share, the more you’ll create a sense of connection for anyone reading (which is especially helpful if potential patients are checking out your site).
- If you’re writing a newsletter or a blog post, how can you introduce a sense of story? If you have a new offer for your patients, can you give some context that creates more of a narrative? What about sharing a personal anecdote to begin with? If you aim to tell a bit of a story (in whatever way feels natural to you) it’s likely to produce a more engaging piece of writing.
Know your audience
Who are you writing for? If you can’t answer this question clearly, your piece will read as confused and jumbled. You should always keep your audience first and foremost in your mind — and re-read everything you’ve drafted through this lens. For example, you’ll communicate with your patients in a very different way to how you’d write for fellow practitioners! Likewise, how you write to potential patients might be a bit different to how you communicate with your existing patient base who are already familiar with you.
Implement a structure
Anything you write should have a structure or outline. I find headings tend to make things more readable and easier for a reader to navigate, especially when our eyes are used to scrolling and scanning (we’re all constantly on our devices these days, after all!). But even if you don’t use headings, each paragraph should build on the one before and have a clear purpose in the overall piece.
Anytime I write something, I still always jot down a rough plan of what I’m going to say. There’s a reason why teachers force you to do this in high school and university (it’s not just them being mean and pedantic) — a piece of writing that’s built on a plan is far more likely to be cohesive and logical, while avoiding repetition.
2. While you’re writing
Tone is crucial
Aim to be friendly and conversational in the way you write. Being extremely serious and straightlaced in your communications doesn’t always make you look more professional. In fact, it can sometimes be a bit alienating to your reader. You don’t have to be overly casual in your writing style, but people generally respond positively to a bit of warmth and personality.
In a perfect world, using some humour can take your writing to the next level. If you can make your reader chuckle, it’s a clear sign that they’re engaged by your writing. But this can feel scary to take a chance on. If you’re not sure about a joke, I’d suggest playing it safe and leaving it out.
Use “you”, rather than “I” or “we”
As much as possible, keep the focus on your audience — what will they gain by making an appointment with you? What is the benefit to them? What can they expect? Using the second person (“you”) makes your reader feel like you’re speaking directly to them and allows them to relate what you’re saying more easily back to themselves and their lives.
Vary your sentence length
Be sure to avoid ultra-long sentences. People will lose concentration and switch off rather than battle through wordy blocks of text. A general rule of thumb is to never use sentences that run on for more than three lines — instead opt for a full stop to break them up. Short and sweet is always a better option.
You might feel that jargon conveys that you’re an expert in your field, but honestly it puts up a massive wall between you and your reader. Someone visiting your website wants to know in comprehensible terms exactly what you can do for them, not have to wade through theory-dense explanations that are only understandable to another practitioner. Aim to write in such a way that an educated adult reader can understand what you’ve written, not just a specialist in your field.
No passive voice
Passive voice is generally pretty awful to read, although it often gets used in healthcare writing. It does depend on the context, of course. If you’re writing a report, passive voice might be your best option (e.g. “the client was consulted about treatment plans” or “the patient was admitted” or “a rise in the patient’s blood pressure is noted”). But I’d recommend getting out of this habit if you’re communicating directly with your patients. The reason is that passive constructions often come across as more wordy and less easy to follow, as well as being more distant and disengaged. Consider the following:
“The clinic was founded in 2019” (passive) vs “We founded the clinic in 2019” (active).
“A number of patients with lower back injuries have been seen at the clinic recently” (passive) vs “I’ve seen a number of patients with lower back injuries at the clinic recently” (active).
As you can likely see, the active constructions are more readable and introduce a greater sense of story.
3. When you’re done
Don’t skip the editing and proofreading stages
When you’ve finished writing something, put it away for a few days and then pull it back out again to review with fresh eyes. You’re looking for two things during this phase: firstly, does it make sense overall i.e. is it well structured and organised (this is editing) and, secondly, are there any typos, spelling errors, or grammar mistakes (which is proofreading).
- If you have someone in your life who’s willing to read over it for you, take them up on that — a fresh pair of eyes is invaluable. (Personally, I bribe my friends with cake). Tell your kind guinea pig reader that you want their honest, constructive opinion on how what you’ve written reads to them, what didn’t make sense, and what they’d improve.
- It’s not the greenest option, but I’ll always print up a copy of something before I publish it and read a printed copy out aloud. It’s a weird thing, but when you do that, your brain somehow reads what you’ve actually put on the page — not just what you thought you wrote.
- Don’t rely on spell check features or software. These aren’t foolproof by any means. Your writing needs a final read through with human eyes. Be on the lookout for those sneaky mistakes that all too easily creep in e.g. your vs you’re, their vs there, it’s vs its. I see so many professional websites with errors like these in the written text and it’s completely avoidable with a thorough proofread.
- Don’t fall in love with your own writing. Have you ever heard the phrase “kill your darlings”? It basically means that you need to be prepared to get rid of content that you might really love, but that doesn’t really have a place in what you’re trying to communicate. Always be prepared to cut things out that aren’t working.
Don’t mimic someone else’s style
Find your own voice! Trying to echo someone else’s style of writing is a bit like dressing up in their clothes — it won’t fit you right. And people respond above all to authenticity. If you can make your writing feel genuinely like you, people will connect to that. At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to reflect you.
The last thing I want to do is cramp your style. Just because your sentence isn’t written the way that I (or somebody else) would write it, doesn’t mean that it’s bad writing. There’s a lot of scope for all kinds of different writing, so you do you.
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